SAN DIEGO –plans on staying atop the U.S. subcompact-car market with the new ’14 Versa Note, a model the auto maker says will compete by offering price, style and value.
The debut of the hatchback follows the Versa sedan’s launch by nearly two years, and with both cars now in the fold,expects to sell more than 100,000 units of the two combined in their first full year on the market together.
Last year, the Versa slid to second place in WardsAuto’s Lower Small segment with 113,327 deliveries, trailing the Kia Soul at 115,778 units. Third- and fourth-place Chevrolet Sonic andAccent were well off that pace, recording sales of 81,247 and 61,004, respectively.
However, this year, Versa has reclaimed the lead with 63,761 deliveries through June, up 4.7% from like-2012.
Nissan has no intentions of ceding control of the segment to a competitor, says Julie Lynch, senior marketing manager.
“We want to hold on to B-segment leadership,” she tells WardsAuto at a media rollout for the car here. “We tout the Versa very proudly as the best-selling entry car, and we have every intention to continue to be the leader.”
Lynch says sales could eclipse 100,000 units in 2013, but notes availability currently is tight. Capacity constraints are expected to ease when Versa production begins at a new plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico, later this year. The facility is targeted to be ramped up fully in early 2014.
“That will really open up the volume for us,” she says. “We don’t even know what our full potential is because of (current supply limits).”
Lynch says a low price will help keep Versa on top of its segment, noting the new hatchback starts at $13,990 while the sedan stickers at $11,990. In comparison, the Kia Soul starts at $14,400 and the Chevrolet Sonic at $14,785.
The Versa Note, powered by a 1.6L inline 4-cyl. engine producing 109 hp and 107 lb.-ft. (145 Nm) of torque, is targeted at an older customer than are competitive models, Lynch says, a buyer demographic Nissan views as white space in the subcompact market.
“They’re probably in their early 30s, maybe coupled but not necessarily married and don’t have kids,” she says. “They have progressed in their lives to the point they know who they really are and they love doing life experiences that make them happy.”
Nissan expects the extra versatility offered by the hatch to appeal to consumers with active lifestyles. That theme will resonate throughout the Versa Note’s “Your Door to More” ad campaign set to launch this fall.
The hatchback also will be aimed at first-time car buyers as well as those who tend to purchase used vehicles.
The sales split between the Versa hatchback and sedan was about 50/50 last year, but previously nearly 60% of customers chose the hatch. Lynch says she expects the ratio to continue to shift in the sedan’s favor given its lower price point.
“Going forward, we’re going to align more with competitors, who historically have sold more sedans,” she says. “We’re going to build to demand, but we believe it will be 55% sedan and 45% hatchback.”
The digital portion of the ad campaign was launched in June and includes a contest where people can submit short videos for a chance to win prizes. In September, direct marketing will begin that includes TV and print spots, as well as social-media campaigns.
Nissan also will reach out to minorities, particularly Hispanics and African Americans. Lynch says Nissan is one of only three auto makers to have a dedicated Hispanic Facebook page and website.
“If you look at the subcompact-hatch segment, 14% of sales are to Hispanics,” she says. “For Versa, it’s 23%-25% Hispanic, and we do very well with African Americans. So it’s very important for us.”
While price is a key consideration for subcompact buyers, the segment is changing, and consumers are demanding more than stripped-down budget models.
To accommodate those looking for basic transportation, as well as buyers seeking more amenities, the Versa Note is being offered in three trim levels: S, S Plus and SV, with available SV Convenience, SL and SL Tech options packages.
The Versa Note S features a 5-speed manual transmission, while the S Plus and SV models are equipped with a continuously variable automatic.
Available equipment includes keyless entry, Bluetooth, hands-free phone, SiriusXM Satellite Radio and heated front seats and outside mirrors, plus 16-in. aluminum-alloy wheels.
“You want the right features and content, but you can’t go over the top, because when you start adding too many features your price point goes up,” Lynch says. “You have to make sure you have the right amount of content at the right price point.”